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A Westbrook selectman, a graduating senior, and a parent spoke at the town’s Board of Education (BOE) meeting on June 11 on behalf of two Westbrook High School (WHS) graduating seniors who have been suspended and prohibited from participating in graduation for staging a raunchy senior prank.
According to Westbrook Superintendent of Schools Patricia A. Ciccone, the students set up the prank in the dark, early hours of a Tuesday morning, June 4. The prank involved gluing fake penises to the outside of the school, including the large rock in front and the edge of the roof; the act would have necessitated the students’ climbing onto the roof.
While the students taped up security cameras and wore masks and hoodies to hide their identities, more than one camera caught glimpses of them with their masks off, said Ciccone. There were three students who pulled off the prank, but only two were recognizable.
While many people are referring to the incident as a harmless prank, Ciccone said, far more serious considerations involve trespassing on school property at night, climbing onto the roof of the school, and potential damage of its solar panels, gas lines, and electrical lines, as well as the very real possibility of injury or even fatality.
“We are only too lucky that none of them were hurt because they were hanging over the side of the roof line affixing things to the front of the building along the roof line,” Ciccone said.
In addition, 4th graders were due at the school that morning to rehearse a concert in the school auditorium that they would perform that evening. The custodial staff managed to clean up the school in time for their arrival.
The two students who had been identified were suspended on June 4 and informed that they would not be permitted to participate in the June 17 graduation ceremony. As both are over the age of 18, Ciccone said, the letters that were sent to their homes were addressed to the students, rather than to their parents.
The following week, on June 10, students at the school—at least 50, according to fellow WHS senior Ben Schreck—wore T-shirts that urged the school administration to “free” the two suspended students.
At the June 11 BOE meeting, which was attended by Westbrook police, there were approximately 10 students, as well as some parents, in the audience. In the second part of the meeting, BOE Chair Lee Bridgewater announced the rules for public participation, which included limiting comments to three minutes. The BOE, she said, would not respond to comments, except where clarification was necessary.
Schreck was the first to speak. Alternating between facing the BOE members and the audience, where WHS Principal Tara Winch sat in the front row, Schreck appealed to the school administrators’ “patience, understanding, and compromise.”
He then made a fairly startling admission.
“In a spirit of honesty I admit to you that, to varying degrees, the vast majority of the senior class was involved in this prank,” he said. “While we didn’t exactly execute the prank, and there was no malicious intent behind it, we still had a role. The fact that we weren’t present at the time of the prank does not exonerate us.”
He went on to offer a “counter-proposal, something that would be constructive and positive in a time that we are grappling with so much negativity. The custodial staff had to take a significant time out of their day to deal with the prank,” he said. “We would like to volunteer our services in aiding the custodians during set up for graduation.
“We feel as though this would be a final way to unite our class while somewhat redeeming ourselves for the part we played,” he continued.
Schreck ended with this: “I beg you to explore an avenue that doesn’t prevent [the suspended students] from walking at graduation. The reputation of these two men, and the Class of 2019, has been tarnished. I implore you: Don’t let us leave on this note.”
Parent Meghan Bavely then rose to speak, stating that bullying of one of her children had not been “handled in the same way as this has” and that student safety should be prioritized. Punishment should not be arbitrary, she said, and the school administration should allow the two students to participate in graduation.
Selectman John Hall, who graduated from WHS “49 years ago this week,” told the BOE that he did well academically and was “proud of my academic achievements,” which included membership in the honor society. But he also claimed his share of pranks.
One of the suspended students, Hall said, “has been in my and my wife’s employ for years.” He said that the student has represented the Halls’ farm at farmers’ markets and that Hall “trusts him implicitly.” The students, he said, “should be allowed to graduate.”
In a subsequent phone call, Hall said that the student “made a mistake, obviously,” but that “the punishment is a little harsh for what happened.” He suggested that suspension and “monetary remuneration” were appropriate responses, but “I think he should graduate with the other kids.”
Assuming that the students pass the required courses, they will receive their diplomas, Ciccone said. As to Schreck’s statement about the majority of the class being involved, she responded that the school administration had no evidence of its accuracy.
“What we do know is that some students participated by throwing some money into a pot [for the purchase of] these devices,” she said.
The students who contributed money, however, did not trespass or climb on the roof of the school, she pointed out.
Ciccone said that one of the two students had violated the terms of his suspension by coming “into the building and...kind of hiding, not taking the consequences seriously.”
The testimonials at the BOE meeting “have an effect in that we’re certainly open to hearing any information that anyone has and any rationale,” Ciccone continued. “But in this case, the policies are very clear.
“There was no decision on the part of the BOE to overturn or render a different decision,” Ciccone said.
The investigation, she said, is ongoing.
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